Dim the lights. Crank up the music. Pop the champagne. Toss the confetti.
That’s what we do when we want to create a space perfect for an over-the-top celebration. We let our hair down and let go of our day-selves, with our inside voices, sensible shoes, and self-consciousness, and let another side out. We become uninhibited, and dance our hearts out.
We’re hardwired to celebrate, and we do it because it’s a break from the normal. Like it or not, that’s exactly what happens between Thanksgiving and January 1st: this is not a normal time of year. We plan to celebrate. We schedule our lives for celebration. We may get worn out from this season of celebrating, but generally, we prioritize it. Celebration is a conscious choice. We set aside time for it, we prepare for it, and we change our hearts—and even our clothes—for it.
And what’s the worst thing we can do when it comes to celebration? Be a wet blanket. Be the person who stands in the corner with her arms crossed, or the one who keeps pointing at his watch to the friends he came with, reminding them he’s counting down the seconds to leave. The one who treats the celebration like it’s a task to be finished or a trial to be endured.
Worship is a celebration.
We celebrate the joy that can only come with knowing and communing with our Creator, and experiencing his unconditional love and acceptance. And we celebrate with one another as a collective, lifting up our hearts and our voices together. We close our eyes. We lift our hands. We let go of ourselves, and open up to something bigger, something that fills us completely.
When the ark of the covenant came back home to ancient Jerusalem, King David, the celebrated ruler and warrior, the man after God’s own heart, leapt and danced with abandon in the streets. He was “undignified in his zeal and excitement.” His clothes were not his usual attire—in fact, he was probably not wearing much at all. And he was judged for it. Hard. This kind of behavior was “below” him.
But this lack of self-consciousness is what made David’s celebration more beautiful. It didn’t impress royalty, but it mattered to God and it mattered to the everyone witnessing this once-in-a-lifetime event. David prioritized this celebration over his title and his dignity—his joy was palpable and accessible to everyone.
When we lead others in the church, when we stand on stage, when we have a microphone, a guitar, a keyboard in front of us, week after week, we can forget that this is something to be prioritized, when we drop all pretenses—and even our dignity—for the sake of God’s glory and this overflowing joy inside us. Instead, we may be tempted to use our instruments, our voices, our appearance to shield ourselves from being “seen” by others and by God. We keep ourselves in check and go through the motions.
Our worship becomes work, something socially acceptable and subdued, and sometimes a bit too self-conscious.
But our worship is meant to be champagne cork-popping celebration. It’s meant to be vulnerable and unrestrained, dancing like there’s no tomorrow. We create celebration and we prepare for it: we dim the lights, we mark our calendars, and we expect everyone present to feel welcome and free to be themselves and let loose a little.
"Joy is the serious business of heaven." – C.S. Lewis
This requires a plan, a purposeful decision to be ready to celebrate and embrace this joy. Practicing true hospitality, we welcome the Holy Spirit and God’s people with openness and excitement, and we rely on God’s goodness instead of our own emotions or energy. If we rely on our own energy and sense of self, it may work for a little while—but it has the potential to quickly turn into exhaustion or self-adulation.
So before you worship, and before you lead, prepare yourself to celebrate, and allow yourself to get lost in that celebration. Let your fists become open hands, and let your hearts soften. Be ready to join David and celebrate before the Lord.